“What the American public wants in the theater is a tragedy with a happy ending,” William Dean Howells said. Do people want this in novels, too? I gave a talk on The Story of Edgar Sawtelle at a library not long ago, and some members of the audience who loved the novel nonetheless disliked the downbeat ending. The reaction surprised me, because the reviews and publicity have made clear that the book has parallels to Hamlet, a tragedy in which corpses litter the stage in the last scene. Have the movies primed us to expect improbably happy endings? Or do the negative reactions have more to do with current events such as the recession?